by: Jack Dorris
For those truly familiar with Natalie and I, you know she is the chef in the family and I am the baker. A chef can bake and a baker can cook, but there are distinct differences and it is rare to find someone excellent at both. A chef tends to be more fluent with their creations. Its not about following a recipe once you have the basics, its about instinct and flair.
I'm not that creative. I like to follow recipes, ratios and simple methods. Don't get me wrong, I can adjust and improvise; but taking any set of raw ingredients and whipping up a delicious meal is beyond my comfort zone (think Food Network's Chopped - a Dorris household favorite). I'm very planned and deliberate in my execution. That's where baking comes in... Its more mathematical, more ratio specific than magic (to me).
One of our families favorites, and a popular item at the restaurant, is my Honey-Wheat Bread. Its soft, moist texture and honey-sweetened wheat flavor gives it an addicting appeal -- its difficult to have just one piece. Give it a try, the method is simple -- or rather "Straight Method" in baking terms. This means all ingredients are mixed at once.
Keep in mind, the joy of baking includes the lack of absolute perfection. Don't mind the quirks in the appearance, they add character and authenticity. And while ratio and recipe are important, there is a "fudge factor," so don't go crazy trying to get that last 100th of an ounce.
Tools: (I will follow this post with my recommendations from Amazon to get you started)
Ingredients: (all measurements are by weight)
11.5 ounces Milk, 2% (use half water if whole milk is used)
0.4 ounces Active Dry Yeast (use 0.2 ounces for Instant Yeast)
6.25 ounces Bread Flour
12.5 ounces Whole Wheat Flour
3 ounces Honey, Grade A
1.75 ounces Extra virgin olive oil
0.4 ounces Salt, extra fine (I prefer pure sea salt)
Preheat oven to lowest available setting (around 170 degrees)
Weigh out milk and warm in microwave until lukewarm (NOT HOT) then add yeast to activate.
Weigh out flours and create a "bowl" like cavity in the middle for the honey and the oil.
Combine flours, honey, oil and milk in mixer on LOW speed until dough clings to the hook -- approximately 5 minutes. You may need to stop the mixer and scrape the bowl occasionally if the hook is not getting to the bottom.
Add salt and continue to mix on LOW another 5 minutes.
Turn off oven and place mixing bowl on middle rack of oven and cover with a damp towel until dough has doubled in size -- Approximately 45 - 50 minutes.
Turn out the dough onto the silicon baking mat on counter and turn oven back on to lowest temperature.
Divide dough into three equal portions.
Gently stretch and flatten each portion into a rectangle-type shape.
Roll each portion up lengthwise and pinch the seam together.
Using the palm of your hands and extended fingers, roll the dough back-and-forth to evenly thin the roll out and lengthen it to about 24 inches. Do this for each portion.
Pinch one end of each portion together and begin to braid by taking far-right portion and crossing it over the middle portion, then take far-left portion and crossing it over the now-middle portion. Repeat until you reach the end of the dough.
Pinch the ends together and slightly tuck them under the braid.
Flour the baking stone and transfer the braided loaf. Place in the oven to allow the dough to rise (called "proofing") until double in size -- approximately 45 minutes.
Turn oven up to 400 degrees (without moving the dough). Mist the oven and loaf with water and repeat every 3-5 minutes. The moisture will help form and brown the crust.
Gently check the bottom of the bread using a spatula after 10 minutes to make sure it isn't burning. If so, turn oven down to 350 degrees and continue baking.
Bake until crust becomes brown and the loaf springs back when poked -- 13 - 18 minutes.
Remove loaf from baking stone and transfer to cooling rack.
Once cooled, the loaf will stay fresh 2-3 days when wrapped in plastic.